After the easy listening pop of last years Western Stars comes something more recognisable in Letter To You – containing his signature mix of americana, rock and folk backed up by the E Street Band. It is quite a personal album with the first track ‘One Minute You’re Here’ paying homage to bandmates and friends who have passed away, mainly Clarence Clemons. It is an oddly soft and sombre start to a record and acts a nice transition from the smooth sounds of the last record.
The next two tracks kick things into gear. The title track is the lead single and an impassioned slice of their big band rock. ‘Burnin’ Train’ is a lively little number with a wonderfully insistent drum beat, sprightly guitar work and a sparky solo. The chemistry between the band is self-evident, accentuated by the fact that Letter was recorded live over five days. This lends the album a natural, organic sound and adds to the power of songs like ‘Ghosts’; an upbeat love letter to rock n roll and his old Castiles bandmate George Theiss – who passed away two years ago – climaxing in an exultant sax solo.
For a Springsteen album in an American election year it is surprisingly low on politics, with only one track fitting that bill. Growing in power and volume throughout, ‘Rainmaker’ is a folk tinged rocker about con men who prey on people’s desperation, fear and ignorance. It predates Trump but you know its inclusion here was with Donald in mind. Otherwise this record looks inwards, at his career and, as aforementioned, at mates who have passed away. ‘Last Man Standing’ is an example of the latter, a sumptuous grower of a track with a subtle and sweet melancholia to it, and is about the fact he is the only member of his first band The Castiles alive.
The Americana of ‘If I was the Priest’ is a Bob Dylan-esque tale, verbose and loaded with imagery from the old west and religion – outlaws, sheriffs, jesus and priests abound. It was written by Bruce in the early 1970s and is full of the lengthy, poetic prose he favoured at the time. It would not be a Springsteen album without a bit of schmaltz, so may I introduce ‘The Power of Prayer’ – an uplifting, piano laced number praising the spiritual and healing power of music.
Letter to You is a peach of an album with a natural sound and a finely struck balance, which flows from soft to loud, folk to rock, melancholia to positivity with consummate ease. This is more like it.